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Am J Manag Care. 2006 Jul;12(7):397-404.

Insurance coverage and subsequent utilization of complementary and alternative medicine providers.

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Department of Health Services, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Box 357660, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.



Since 1996, Washington State law has required that private health insurance cover licensed complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers.


To evaluate how insured people used CAM providers and what role this played in healthcare utilization and expenditures.


Cross-sectional analysis of insurance enrollees from western Washington in 2002.


Analysis of insurance demographic data, claims files, benefit information, diagnoses, CAM and conventional provider utilization, and healthcare expenditures for 3 large health insurance companies.


Among more than 600,000 enrollees, 13.7% made CAM claims. This included 1.3% of enrollees with claims for acupuncture, 1.6% for naturopathy, 2.4% for massage, and 10.9% for chiropractic. Patients enrolled in preferred provider organizations and point-of-service products were notably more likely to use CAM than those with health maintenance organization coverage. The use of CAM was greater among women and among persons 31 to 50 years of age. The use of chiropractic was more frequent in less populous counties. The CAM provider visits usually focused on musculoskeletal complaints except for naturopathic physicians, who treated a broader array of problems. The median per-visit expenditures were 39.00 dollars for CAM care and 74.40 dollars for conventional outpatient care. The total expenditures per enrollee were 2589 dollars, of which 75 dollars(2.9%) was spent on CAM.


The number of people using CAM insurance benefits was substantial; the effect on insurance expenditures was modest. Because the long-term trajectory of CAM cost under third-party payment is unknown, utilization of these services should be followed.

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